The latest version of Microsoft’s Streets & Trips includes a GPS receiver that plugs into a laptop or the USB port of any PC using Windows 98 or higher.
GPS stands for “Global Positioning System,” and Joy found it, well, a joy to use as she trundled around the block with her
laptop. A tiny image of a car tracked her movements with surprising accuracy. As if leaving a trail of bread crumbs, the system tells you where you are and where you’ve been. An on-screen compass shows your longitude, latitude and speed.
There are several GPS devices on the market, and any of these will work with Streets & Trips. As a practical matter, no one is likely to go walking around with a laptop under her arm to see where she is. The device, which is remarkably small ñ- about the size of an aspirin tin, is most useful to someone taking a laptop in a car and using it in conjunction with the Streets & Trips software.
If you type in a list of the places you want to go, the software will plot a route. It plots the most efficient route, no matter what order you list the stops. This is obviously useful for salesmen, truckers and delivery drivers.
If you get lost along the way, which is entirely possible, the program has a feature called “Reroute From Here.” This recalculates your route based on your current location. If you are also able to connect to the Internet, the program can check current road conditions anywhere along the way.
The program figures out your best route, calculates your fuel usage and tells you the total distance. Therein lies a rub, since people familiar with an area will quickly note that many suggested routes are by no means the best way of getting from one place to another. Like all computer programs, it is basically mindless and just looks at the map. You can ask for preferred roads, however, avoiding interstates and highways in favor of what Bob, a Midwesterner, calls “local roads” and Joy, who grew up in California, calls “surface streets.”
Finally, there is a feature called “Find Nearby Places” that is similar to features in other road-trip programs and helps you find the nearest restaurant, landmark, hotel, train station, theater, etc. It includes 1.8 million places of interest in the United States and Canada. The information is updated once a year, but misses a lot. We asked for hotels in Evanston, Ill., and while it listed several, it failed to list the largest and nicest.
But the program did pass our acid test. In the past, when reviewing programs from DeLorme and others, we have asked directions from Northwestern University, in the suburbs, to downtown Chicago. Any rational person would take Lakeshore Drive, which has a terrific view and is probably also the fastest way. Other routing programs have steered us inland, but this one used Lakeshore.
You can buy the Streets & Trips software without a GPS device and use the configuration wizard, which lets the program to work with any GPS device you might already have.
IT’S A WONDER
There’s a scene early in the movie “The Blues Brothers” where Jake and Elwood are trying to elude the police and they drive right through a storefront and into a mall. As they speed down the center aisle, the police in hot pursuit, passing stores for clothes, sporting goods, music equipment and even new car displays, Jake says in wonder, “This mall has everything.” That’s the way we feel about ATI’s new All-In-Wonder X600 Pro graphics board for the PC. This card has everything.
You can have video coming into your computer screen and going out to another TV. You can even bring in FM radio. You can watch 16 programs at once, if you have that kind of attention span, or you can get an online listing of all shows in your area and pick one.
The board will also act as a kind of TiVo, the ground-breaking device for recording TV programs. The All-In-Wonder will record programs to a hard drive, and you can go back and forth between broadcast and recording.
You can watch a TV program in the background while doing your regular work. You can do this by watching a tiny window or by going full screen and using a feature called “Thruview,” which allows a program to run in muted colors behind whatever else you’re doing.
The original purpose of these high-end graphics cards was for playing video games. You can still do that, of course, with colour and fast rendering that will satisfy even a 12-year-old.
List price for the All-In-Wonder X600 Pro is $249 from the ATI Web site (www.ati.com).
More on grid computing at www.Find-a-Drug.org.uk. Download free software and this nonprofit scientific organization will be able to use your computer when it’s idle. The Find-a-Drug project, based in Britain, looks for molecules that inhibit the progress of HIV, cancer, malaria and other diseases. It has discovered about 100 molecules with anti-cancer or anti-AIDS properties. Partners have included Oxford University and Intel. The program runs as a tiny screen saver in one corner of your screen.
If a file is too big to e-mail, try www.yousendit.com. This is a free service that lets you e-mail up to 1 gigabyte of information. You can send it on a secure server to protect your privacy.